Politician Orders Education Director to ‘Blackmail’ Headteacher in Scramble for S.1 Admission

The competition among parents to enrol their children in preferred schools in Uganda is becoming increasingly intense, as they go to great heights to secure spots for their offspring. 

Hajji Ismael Mulindwa, the Director of Basic Education narrated during an event organized by the Uganda National Teachers’ Union-UNATU in Kampala that a top politician had ordered him to blackmail a headteacher of one of the top schools in the country in order to secure admission. 

Mulindwa mentioned that he had been asked by the politician whose child had been denied admission to one of the top traditional schools, to do everything in his power to ensure that the child was admitted.

The director narrated that since the school had submitted some requests to his office for approval, he used this as leverage to have the politician’s child accepted, but added that the process was complicated because they couldn’t reach the headteacher who had turned off his phone.

Mulindwa observed that roads leading to the top schools have been experiencing traffic congestion since the release of PLE results as parents rush to have their children admitted. To him, this pressure has caused some schools to increase their admission requirements and school fees as a means of limiting the number of students, which can have a negative impact on those who have qualified on merit.

However, the director noted that the problem is not with the admission process, but with the larger educational system, which has systemic issues that need to be addressed. Mulindwa said each school should have the resources and support to be as good as any other so that it doesn’t matter whether a student is admitted to a school-based Masaka, Kampala, or Karamoja.

This anecdote highlights the extent to which parents go to secure places for their children in desirable “top traditional schools”, and also brings to light, the unethical tactics that may be used in this pursuit.

Some parents have over time shared experiences about their attempts to connect with influential individuals in order to advocate for their children’s enrollment in a specific school.

“Obtaining a spot in a desirable school requires not only connections but also a recommendation from someone with significant power, such as a priest or Bishop if the school is founded by a Church. However, even with such a recommendation, there is no guarantee of being admitted,” a parent told our reporter.

It is widely known that there are individuals whose job is to secure placements for students and that parents are willing to pay large sums to have these individuals connect them with headteachers who wield significant influence in the enrollment process. These headteachers are often seen as having near-godly powers when it comes to deciding who is admitted to their schools.

As the director notes, many Ugandans have some schools where everyone is fighting to enrol his or her child while others are despised due to poor performance. 

Filbert Baguma, the General Secretary of UNATU, attributed the current state of the education system to government policies that have led to the decline of schools across the country. As a result, there is now high demand for admission to the few schools that have “survived.”

However, Baguma questioned the quality of these schools and whether they are truly as good as they are claimed to be, as he believes that they are simply in the business of producing top-performing students in national exams.

In his view, the government needs to increase funding and address the bottlenecks in the education system to ensure equity and provide equal opportunities for all students. He said the focus should be on improving the overall quality of the education system, rather than just creating a few highly-regarded schools.

Patrick Kaboyo, an education consultant, also shared similar views. He noted that the current state of the education system is in chaos and the only way to address the situation is for the government to fix the system and ensure that schools are all of good quality.

“What we are seeing is total madness. Our system is broken. Why are we all fighting for a few schools? What is wrong with the others? If parents are confident that their children will receive a good education regardless of which school they are placed in, the rush to secure a spot in a limited number of schools will come to an end,” he said.  

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